Decision Trial Run

I spoke to others, but forgot to apply it to myself.

As an imperfect human continually striving for health and wellness, I go to therapy every few weeks (10/10 would recommend!). As I sat in my most recent therapy session, I talked with my counselor about some decisions coming up that seem a bit daunting. In my graduate program, the professors constantly emphasize that they “guarantee safety, not comfort,” in order to foster our growth as future counselors, so with these upcoming decisions, I know that I likely will not remain in my comfort zone. However, I do want to be holy, happy, and healthy, and I really struggled with knowing how to achieve this.

While talking things out, I came to the realization that I already knew the answer to my ramblings.

Only a couple days prior, I had visited a local school to give a talk to their students about making moral, prayerful decisions. Each time I gave the talk, I detailed several different ways to make decisions while listening to God’s call, and the importance and implications of doing so. I referenced ways that I had used these strategies in my own life and how they had proven beneficial for me as a young Catholic. I had literally spent the beginning of that week praying, thinking, writing, and preparing for how to speak to these students about this topic, yet here I was in therapy struggling to know how to proceed with decision-making.

After forgiving myself for my lapse in memory (if I can even call it that), I became newly convicted to practice what I preach. I thought about the suggestions I gave those students, and applied them back to myself.

Any decision can be made prayerfully, but one strategy for making some of life’s bigger decisions has proven extremely effective for me over the past few years. It’s something I call the “decision trial run.”

This strategy works when we have a few different options of something where none of them is necessarily more holy or more good than the other, and they may each result in a positive outcome, but we still have to make a decision. How it works is we lay out all of our possible options, however many there may be. We then designate a series of days to test out each of the options, one per day. On the first morning we wake up and live through our day as if we had already made the decision and chosen one of our options, to the greatest extent that we can. Throughout the day, we take special notice of our thoughts and attitudes towards having made that selection. On the next morning, we wake up and try out the next option of our decision, doing the same thing as the day before. We repeat this until we have tested out each of the options. Throughout this whole time, we pray especially for the Lord’s guidance and for Him to lead us toward the option that will bring us to the greatest fulfillment and use us for the greatest purpose. We remain open to each of the possibilities in front of us and listen to the stirrings of our heart.

In my experience, after completing a trial run of each decision, I just know which choice is the right one for me. I don’t know how to fully explain it, but testing out the decision allows us to make a more educated decision about what might be good for us. We will never fully know God’s will, but we can make the best choice we can with the knowledge we have at the time, and then stand by that decision. Try it out. Trust your heart.

While we all have a plan set out by God, we also have free will given to us by Him so that we may choose how we live our life. This can be overwhelming and daunting, but placing trust in our Creator allows Him to inspire us and use us in ways that we might never expect.

As I found out through temporarily forgetting about my message from only a few days earlier, it can be difficult to live out the words we speak. But the phrases we use to uplift and encourage others should reflect back into us in the way we live out our call in the world. The decision is yours.

In Joy, Monica

And your ears shall hear a word behind you: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.

Isaiah 30:21


It’s Never Too Late

It took me too long to ask for help.

I went on my weekly grocery shopping trip, and reached the end of the last aisle after snaking my way through the store. I checked my list, which to my surprise had one item remaining un-crossed-off. I thought I had found all my items while traipsing through the shop, but I realized that I had not come across one essential item – gluten-free pizza dough.

Standing at the shelf where this item usually resides, I scanned the products from top to bottom, to no avail. Figuring I must have missed it somewhere in another aisle, I pushed my cart back towards the baking section. No luck. I determinedly weaved through each possible aisle (figuring that it wouldn’t be with the cleaning supplies or pet food), on the lookout for the final product to complete my grocery adventure. I spent about 20 minutes scouting the aisles in search of the small tan package, and re-searching when I came up with nothing. Exasperated, I finally searched for an employee who appeared able to help me.

Within 30 seconds of getting this employee’s attention, asking for assistance, and bee lining behind him directly to the product, the pizza dough was in my cart and I headed towards the checkout counters. He knew what he was doing, and I realized that I could have asked him for help a loooong time ago.

I’m sure that if I searched each aisle diligently enough and really focused on each box, bag, pouch, and jar, I would have found the pizza dough eventually. But the thing is, I didn’t have to do that.

As a counselor, my job is to help people in a shockingly similar way to my pizza-dough-finding savior. As we work towards self-betterment in the ways that we know how, we may eventually work our way to healing and find things that help us thrive. If we commit to pushing through lots of trial-and-error, we can make improvements over time. But counselors can help make this process SO much quicker and easier. Trained to understand human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, mental health counselors can recognize patterns in our lives and guide us through interventions to increase our overall health.

While I wish this could be a perfect analogy, I do recognize that there is a bit more nuance to mental health than the layout of a grocery store. There is no one-size-fits-all for mental health, and there are countless options for things that might help someone, including meditation, a change in diet, behavioral reinforcement, thought replacement, medication, and the list goes on and on and on. So, while counseling still largely consists of trial-and-error, it is done intentionally, with evidence-based practice and immense support of someone who truly wants to see us succeed.

In my experience, something that has taken me years to discover within myself has been noticeable within one session with a counselor. After describing all of my futile or only somewhat successful attempts to improve aspects of my life, my counselors have been able to help me figure out new thought processes and impactful strategies that actually work for me, tailored to my unique individual experience. It astounds me every time!

I waited 20 minutes to reach out at the grocery store, but we can ask for help at any point. At the beginning of something new, we may feel more comfortable having a support system help us navigate through the experience right from the start. With something we feel semi-confident about, we may want to first try our hand at the task, and then reach out for assistance if we need it. We may push through something right to the end, and then decide that we want to talk about it with someone. It is never too late to ask for help.

Like the grocery store employee who dropped what he was doing to walk me to my gluten-free pizza dough, counselors are available to help us wherever we are at, with whatever we are going through. All we have to do is ask.

In Joy, Monica

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

My Choice

This decision changed my forever.

The end of January always brings about a time of reflection for me as I contemplate the many changes that have occurred in Januarys past. Throughout my life, the first month of the year has contained a variety of momentous occasions, both positive and negative, that cause me to take some moments to slow down and be grateful for where I am today.

One such occasion falls on this particular day, January 29th, which holds extra special meaning in my heart. Seven years ago, I stood in the front of my Catholic Church, and confirmed my faith in God. As tears of overwhelming joy formed in my eyes, the Bishop anointed my forehead with oil as I received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Making the choice to commit my life to the Lord, completely of my own free will and desire, set my life on a radical path that I never would have expected for myself.

Thanks to the faith of my amazing parents (hi mama and papa!), I grew up in the Catholic Church learning about the love of Jesus Christ and enveloped in the joy of the Gospel. I was baptized at two months old and received First Communion in second grade. I sang in the Church choir, attended youth group, and volunteered in a variety of ministries. I loved all of these experiences and continued to grow in my own personal faith through the beauty of the Mass.

In all of this time, I was still learning about the beliefs of the Church and growing in my understanding of God. Then, seven years ago, I got to pronounce my decision to embrace the fullness of this religion, wholly recognizing that I could only comprehend the smallest percentage of the greatness of the Lord. I accepted the full responsibility for my own faith, placed my trust in God, and committed my life to a journey following whatever path He would lay out for me.

It’s taken a lot for me to be able to give up control of my own path, but the Lord’s plan is so much better than my own. At my Conformation, my life became filled with so much more radiant joy than I could ever even begin to describe! This joy transcends circumstance, and emanates into every single aspect of my life. The Lord’s goodness seeps into my life in mundane and profound ways, and He provides for me in accordance with my own individual needs. In choosing Christ, I received His ultimate companionship, which has never ever failed.

Consequences also followed this choice that have included ridicule, heartache, and loneliness. This is what comes when living in a countercultural way in a society that doesn’t always understand virtue and sacrifice. I have been mocked, belittled, and isolated because of my beliefs. I have been called a hypocrite because I am a sinner and make mistakes. I have struggled to remember the reasoning for my commitment and fallen into doubt and sin. But to be completely honest, through my relationship with the Lord and His infinite mercy, my suffering evolves into blessing because I know that it is worth it.

While we are all free to make our own decisions and live our lives in unique ways, we are bound to the consequences of those choices. The consequences of confirming faith in God can include struggle, pain, and ridicule, but it also includes immeasurable joy, peace, hope, and love. This is a choice that we must make not just one time, but daily. With every thought and action, we must re-make the decision to live as Jesus requests of us, because this is something bigger than just ourselves.

Confirming my faith in Jesus Christ was the best decision I have ever made, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In Joy, Monica

And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

I’ll Pray For You

I thought about it and I couldn’t remember.

I’m a person who writes everything down, recognizing the busyness of my brain and the relief that comes from not needing to remember every little detail of my life. My planner is a prized possession, containing all my schedules, assignments, deadlines, appointments, birthdays, errands, and everyday to-do lists. I find that making these notes and lists frees up some of my mental space for other things, and then I can always refer back to my notes for things that I need to remember. I have a set of notecards and scrap paper on my desk for similar purposes, as well as a notebook in my car just in case I find myself needing to write something down while driving around town (when I’m stopped, of course!).

During a recent time in prayer, I remembered that I had told someone that I would pray for them. I tried and tried to remember who it was, or what their situation was, and I simply could not come up with the name. I felt dismayed at my inability to remember, but I prayed for the person anyway, trusting that God would know who the prayer was for. This tactic works when needed, thanks to God’s omnipotence, but I felt distraught when I recognized my lack of intentionality in sticking to my promise of praying for this person.

I find that as a Christian, I often tell people, “I will pray for you,” or “I will keep you in my prayers.” Interacting with others allows me glimpses into their lives, including their triumphs and their struggles. I offer support and encouragement where I can, and usually end with one of these promises of prayer, whether they uphold a faith belief or not, adding them to my long mental list of people and causes to pray for. In doing this, I find that it’s hard to keep track of all of my intentions and make sure that I spend time praying for each one properly, and I will honestly admit that I have failed to live up to some of my commitments.

I decided that I no longer wanted to fall short on my promises of prayer, so I decided to make a change. I write everything else down in my planner or on scraps of paper, but for some reason I had yet to do this with my prayers! I pulled out a bright green notebook about the size of my hand, opened it up to the first page, and began to write each of my prayer intentions and the names of people to whom I have promised prayers. During that same day, I carried the little journal with me and added intentions as they came up, quickly filling a few pages.

A friend shared a struggle with me, so I wrote her name in the book. The news presented disheartening reports, so I inscribed the name of my country on the next available line. A family member felt sick, so their name went in the journal. I wrote my own name in there too, for good measure (I need all the prayers I can get!).

That night, when it came time in my prayer to offer up my intentions, I held my little green notebook and slowly read each inscription line by line, saying, “Lord, hear my prayer.” Deliberate follow-through of prayer felt so much more meaningful than my generic requests, and I ensured that none of my intentions went forgotten. I felt God’s presence wrap around me and a peace that I know comes only from Him. This simple change completely revolutionized the way that I aim to approach supplication from now on.

I plan to carry this little journal with me at all times, so that when people ask for prayers, I can immediately add them to my list and bring their names to prayer with me, making sure I stick with my commitment.

“I’ll pray for you,” is not just a way to wrap up a conversation or offer a bit of comfort. That phrase is a commitment to call upon the Creator of the Universe for the sake of another person. It is a vow of humble service and trust that the Lord will provide in the way that He knows best, beyond our human understanding. Prayer is our most powerful tool, and we must make the best use of it that we can!

It’s easy to make excuses for the things we fall short on, or to settle for just average. However, Heaven is not a place for mediocrity, and we cannot afford to be wishy-washy. We must stick to our commitments, whatever they may be. By continually reflecting on ourselves, finding the places we need to grow, and praying diligently, we can move closer towards eternity.

So let me know your intentions, and I will add them to my little green journal. I’ll keep you in my prayers!

In Joy, Monica

I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4

Doors Are Heavy

I didn’t expect to become inspired while sipping my chai tea latte.

I sat on a small burgundy couch in my favorite local coffee shop reading the introduction of one of my textbooks for the new semester when an elderly woman slowly walked past me using a cane for support. Her husband left the shop to go get the car, and a few minutes later she approached the door to leave the building, so I popped up and got to the door before her, holding it open as she made hew way outside. A smile emerged on her face as she looked up at me and exclaimed, “Oh, thank you, doors are heavy!” I wished her a lovely day and then returned back to my little couch.

Her comment stuck in my mind. I put down my textbook and began reflecting on her statement and why it struck me in such a deep way. To me, this coffee shop door was like most other doors. Sure, I find some doors particularly heavy and surprisingly hard to open, but they generally don’t present any sort of challenge for me. I simply open them and I go through. However, for this delicate woman, the door presented an obstacle that most other people might not think twice about. She could have managed to open it on her own, I’m sure, but she was quite delighted to receive help with something difficult for her to conquer.

Everyone has different things in their life that they find heavy. Things that are easy and mindless for us may be the most difficult trial for someone else, while the things we find challenging for ourselves may be quite simple for someone else. That doesn’t make any of us right or wrong, or better or worse, it just makes us unique humans with different abilities and strengths.

Our individual experience changes over time, and even day-to-day, and depending on our experience, the heaviness we encounter in our life can take many forms. Maybe we carry a spiritual burden, an emotional weight, a mental load, or a physical hindrance. Perhaps we carry a combination of these, or all of them.

Whatever weight we carry with us while we strive to be our best selves, we need not carry it on our own. In one moment of carrying the cross 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ bore all of the burdens of the entire world through the wood upon His shoulders. He walks with us every step of our life, blessing, inspiring, and supporting us. The community we build around us shares even more in carrying our burdens through friendship, prayer, and resources.

In recognizing the places in our own life that feel heavy, we can recognize that every single person around us also has a unique experience of this. Every single person we encounter carries their own combination of burdens and faces things that feel too heavy.

If we open our eyes and heart, we can become aware of the things that might be extra heavy for the people around us, and we can work to help alleviate some of the weight. Even if we feel incapable and unworthy, we can allow Christ to work through us and use our own abilities to reach the places in the world that prove too heavy for others. We can humbly offer ourselves to make a difference in the lives of other people, and humbly accept their help in return. Even Jesus Christ needed help carrying His heavy cross, and Simon of Cyrene came to His side to help make His burden a bit lighter.

Gratefully, we all have different abilities, and what proves heavy for me remains manageable for others. I know that I can reach out for help when I need it, and the people who love me often reach out to me before I even ask. I can also use my strengths to alleviate some of the burden for others, which helps spread love and joy throughout the world. Every act of service makes an impact, and nothing is too simple. Opening a door might seem small to us, but to someone else it might mean so much more.

In Joy, Monica

Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Sharing Socks

Crew-cut socks work best with ankle boots.

The weather in Florida took a huge downward spike last week, getting into the low 20s and 30s – I know, crazy. The rest of the country might scoff at us as they experience their own bomb cyclones, severe snow storms, and below 0°F weather, but us Floridians and our surroundings are simply not prepared for such weather. Schools shut down, roads closed, and officials advised us to stay inside. We can withstand intense humidity and heat at the top of the thermometer, but the low end is just not our thing.

After wearing my tall, cozy boots for a few days in a row, I went out to the store to buy a few extra pairs of snuggly socks to keep my toes warm. As I perused the sock section with a small variety of different colors and styles, I chose a few pairs to add to my collection. As I was about to leave and go purchase my items, a woman nearby caught my attention, and she looked nervous, almost embarrassed. She step towards me and stated that she was from South Florida and therefore new to cold weather. She then asked me to explain the different types of socks.

Relieved that this was a question I could answer, I turned to the rack beside us and began to explain the different styles of socks and what types work best with which types of shoes. I described the difference between ankle socks, crew-cut socks, knee-high socks, and over-the-knee socks. They sound pretty self-explanatory, but this overwhelmed shopper showed visible relief and gratitude after I took a few moments to help her out.

It was something so simple. I mean, really, really, simple. And it made a difference.

I have been a student for my entire life since preschool. I love to learn, and I keep choosing to attend more school. But what I love even more than learning new things, is sharing those things with others. Up until the end of my college undergraduate schooling, I felt like I was learning so much new information every day, but could find few ways to share that learning with the people around me. My classmates were learning the same things as me, and not many people really wanted to hear about classical conditioning, z-scores, or the difference between convergent and discriminant validity (understandably).

Since starting my graduate program, I feel like the tides have completely shifted. As I learn about how humans work, communicate, and function, I find myself sharing my learning about mental health with the people around me at every chance I get, and they actually want to hear about it! I still have a long way to go in my own learning, but my growing understanding of emotions, thoughts, actions, and the influence of one’s background already helps me make an impact in the world around me. The concepts that have become so natural and understandable to me can make such a difference in someone’s new revelation or understanding of themselves, a relationship, or a loved one.

When we share what we know, we can help uplift the people around us. As simple as it may seem, with all of the information in the world there is no way one human can know everything, so sharing our knowledge and listening to others enables us to live a more full life. Whether we have a high school degree, a PhD, a certificate, trade school learning, job experience, or even just life experience, we all have something that we can contribute. It may take some deliberation, creativity, and courage to find effective ways to share what we know, but we each hold something valuable worth sharing.

Our roles in the world all look different, designed by our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. He gives us gifts and experiences so that we can grow as individuals and then grow as a community, all the while using what we have to honor Him.

I think it will be a long time until I really feel confident in my abilities as a mental health counselor, but as long as I share what I know and do my best to help the people around me in the way that they need, whether it be types of socks or something much greater, I know that I will be doing my part alongside the Wonderful Counselor.

In Joy, Monica

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.

Isaiah 11:2

Puzzle Pieces

My family did a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in one and a half days.

I usually shy away from participating in my family’s puzzling activities due to the mass amount of pieces that all vaguely appear to be the same and the frustration that arises from a challenging section. I might occasionally go over to the designated puzzle area and search for a piece or two that fit together, but then move onto another more do-able activity.

In quite a change of events, I actually enjoyed this puzzle! The image consisted of a collection of books bearing shiny gold foil lettering and emblazoned details along the binding. With the ability to separate the numerous pieces into sections first based on color, and then by individual book, the magnitude of the task became much more bearable.

While working on putting together the pieces of one book at a time, I searched through the pile to find each individual piece, noting the details and shape of each unique one. Although many pieces looked very similar and almost identical, each one bore something special that marked its place in the grand picture.

To my family’s slight amusement/annoyance, I followed each successful match with an excited “aha!” Each movement towards creating the grand image felt like a little victory.

As we transition into the new year, we reflect upon our 2017 and look forward with hopes of a new 2018. We recall the happenings of the past 365 days, focusing on the things that felt most significant. This is a beneficial activity, where we can evaluate our goals, both short- and long-term, and make a conscious effort to work more fervently towards those goals, whatever they may be.

However, a general trend appears where we wish away the struggles of our year, emphasize our successes, and readily push the year into the past, optimistically wishing that the new calendar will somehow bring about bigger and better things.

Our year has been a puzzle (possibly in more ways than one). Each little thing that has happened to us fits somewhere in our life, connecting to other moments and forming the great picture that makes us, well, us. The wonderful things stand out in bright shiny gold, and the more mundane things blend together in a span of monotony. Hope and optimism and moving forward are beautiful and valuable things, that’s for sure. And so are struggles and trials and failures. It is easy to forget that the difficult parts of our life have their place in the puzzle as well. They fit into their spot and make up a portion of our overall experience, whether we like it or not.

While we can certainly hope for a better new year, we cannot undermine the significance of the trials of the year past. Whatever we have gone through, it has allowed us to learn, grow, and make decisions about who we are as people. Wishing away the experiences we view as negative leaves us with a bit of emptiness and undervaluing the lessons we can learn by embracing our struggles.

If you’ve ever done a puzzle, you know the frustration of finishing the whole thing and realizing that one piece is missing. That one piece and the hole it creates becomes the most important thing, until it’s found and placed where it is meant to be. We sell ourselves short by undermining any part of our experience. In saying that, when we recognize all areas of our life for what they are, we can choose to leave the past in the past and move forward with positivity and virtue, empowered and driven.

Things in our life may not fit where we want them to or where we think they should, but everything does fit into its place in the grand picture of our life.

When we think about the entire puzzle of our 2017, let’s acknowledge all of the things that pushed us, shaped us, and motivated us, and embrace the moments that helped us become more ourselves. Let us also remember the moments where we did not shine our brightest, and choose to improve those areas of our life in the new year. May we embrace our humanness and resolve to understand and embrace our true selves, this day and every day.

In Joy, Monica

God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

The First Day Of Christmas

I prepared my heart, and now I’m ready to celebrate!

Towards the end of the calendar year, Christians and non-believers alike get in the spirit of the holidays, embracing gift-giving, sweet treats, and time with family and friends. Neighbors exchange cookies, strangers hold the door for an extra moment, and friends remind each other how grateful they are for one another. Christmas time brings out an unquestionable difference in the overall demeanor of our society, largely for the better.

The popular trend has become to start celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween, or after Thanksgiving, or on December 1st, or anywhere after or in between. Decorations emerge, cookies come out of hot ovens, songs about Santa flood the radio stations, and quotes from Buddy the Elf become part of everyday conversation.

But regardless of when each individual or family decides to begin their holiday festivities, the intensity and excitement of the season builds up until Christmas Eve and finally the arrival of Christmas Day, the most wonderful time of the year! The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ pervades the world as we remember the silent, holy, and beautiful night that resulted from Mary’s “yes” to God. We remember the reason for the season and keep the Christ in Christmas on December 25th.

Then, December 26th bears an overwhelming abrupt end to the season of joy. Decorations come down, lights switch off, products go on sale, the last cookie gets eaten, family goes home, and people go back to work.

The world around me makes Christmas disappear, while I’m just getting started.

Within the Catholic Church, the four-week season of Advent consists of preparing, hoping, waiting, rejoicing, and beholding the Lord, which culminates in the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas! While we enjoy all the festivities surrounding the holiday, we choose to focus on remembering the realities of Jesus’ sacrifice in becoming a human to join us on earth. We gather together to adore His coming and celebrate this central portion of our faith. This begins a 12-day celebration that lasts until the appearance of the three Wise Men at Jesus’ manger at the Epiphany on January 6th. The song The Twelve Days of Christmas isn’t just a drawn-out silly song describing a bunch of gifts between two lovers; the premise is based on the real length of Christmas.

The day that everyone forgets about Christmas is really only day two.

While the cookies, lights, and decorations bring much cheer and Christmas spirit, we can celebrate even while they come down around us. We can do our part to carry on the celebration by turning on our Christmas lights until the Epiphany, continuing to gather with friends and family, attending Church services, and wishing one another a “Merry Christmas” with a joyful smile. With all of the stress finally gone from shopping for presents, last-minute wrapping, and making tons of treats, we can finally fully immerse ourselves in celebrating the holiday, which benefits our hearts and souls as we enter into a new year. We each can remember the purpose of this Christmas and celebrate it in its entirety – until the Epiphany of our Lord.

Let’s embrace the joy for the full 12 days, and as long as we possibly can. Merry Christmas!

In Joy, Monica

The shepherds went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Luke 2:16-17, 20

Where The Ocean Meets The Sky

Two masses of vastness collided into an expanse that seemed to go on for eternity.

After taking off on an early morning flight and finishing reading through all the pamphlets in the seat back pocket (I forgot to bring a book to read), I turned my head and gazed out the window with the clouds floating below me. As the sun rose, I spotted local landmarks and watched miniscule cars cross long bridges below me. Buildings shrunk as I flew upward, and tiny dots of humans became imperceptible. My eyes followed the shoreline next to me, until suddenly everything was gone, and I saw nothing.

Varying shades of blue and white spread out in every direction. The only discernible place my eyes could find was a thin navy line where the ocean met the sky. I thought about nothing.

At many points in my life, a great wide expanse such as this represented nothingness. Looking at the extent of a blank forever indicated that I had nothing ahead of me – no goals, no future, no purpose. I could see the emptiness around me, and felt stuck not knowing what to do or where to go, with no direction of how to proceed. I could only see what was in front of me, and sometimes it truthfully seemed to be absolutely nothing.

Looking out the window of this plane at the spread below, above, and around me, I realized that I was not looking at nothing, but instead I was looking at everything. I could not see the ground below me, and the clear sky above me disguised all else, yet my eyes could see more in that moment than they ever could before.

I started to be able to see beyond me, and I recognized the world of possibilities that could emerge out of that “nothingness.” Instead of being stuck with no direction, I realized that my life begins here, where I am, and can extend outward in any direction with a plethora of opportunities.

All this choice may seem overwhelming at times, but God grants us delightful freedom so that we may use our free will to choose to love Him in our uniquely human way. Centering my life around Christ’s will for me guides me in a direction through the expanse of possibility. We are not limited by just the ocean or the sky, but have opportunity ahead of us far greater than we can imagine.

I can see the same exact image from the window seat on a plane, and have a wildly different understanding of it based on my mindset. If what we see ahead of us seems or feels like nothing, we must change how we view the situation.

We often talk about the vastness of the ocean, or the magnitude of the sky, but we are not limited by just the ocean or the sky. When the two expanses meet, it opens up possibilities and freedom greater than we can comprehend. When the openness of our minds matches the expanse in front of us, the wide stretch suddenly changes from signifying nothing, to signifying everything.

God gives us such an array of opportunities so that we may find our purpose in life and engage in the things that make us and the world a brighter place. In return, we can give that openness back to God to allow Him to direct us in the way He has destined for us. The vastness of our life gives us opportunities to live out our vocation, with no limits.

God created the world out of nothing, so imagine what He can do with us.

In Joy, Monica

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

The Signing Sub

I left work with a smile on my face and a jump in my step.

This year, I started working as a substitute teacher in the local public school system around my University. Within just a few weeks of venturing back into the worlds of elementary, middle, and high school, I had subbed for every grade from Kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade.

In each class, I try to learn a little bit alongside the students. In an Algebra class, I re-taught myself how to factor equations and then helped students who got stuck. I practiced comprehension skills in a 5th grade reading class. I taught Spanish to Kindergarteners, and brushed up on my vocab for colors and animals. In middle school band, I practiced sight-reading and explained rhythms to students. I engaged in little moments of teaching and witnessed small epiphanies as students understood new concepts, but these experiences remained pretty inconsistent. I also found myself in many classes where the students got a free period to work on assignments for their other classes, which is pretty much code for them to just hang out with each other and goof off.

Each assignment provides new opportunities and challenges, and ample room for growth. After a particularly tough run of substituting and feeling slightly depleted and hopeless about this work, I found myself praying for some guidance about what to do. I knew that I didn’t have to be powerless, but I didn’t know what that looked like for me, at this time, in this situation. I started to think about how I could possibly find more fulfillment in this endeavor, as well as actually provide something beneficial for the wide variety of students I work with. I considered the skills I have and the gifts that I have been blessed with, and thought about how I could try to incorporate them into substitute teaching.

I did some research, and found out that a few nearby high schools offer American Sign Language as a foreign language option. As this was my minor in college, I became excited at the idea of perhaps getting to work in some of these classes. I drafted an email to a few of the ASL teachers, said a prayer as I hit send, and within two hours I received multiple responses and scheduled a few new assignments into my planner.

On my first day in an ASL classroom, I did not use my voice to speak. I used only American Sign Language to communicate and teach the day’s lesson. I fingerspelled the students’ names to take attendance so they could practice receptive skills (and as a plus, I didn’t have to try to pronounce all the names!). I got to use my abilities to help facilitate the learning environment, as well as practice a language that I find astoundingly beautiful and fascinating. I actually left work feeling hopeful and eager, a strong sign that I was on the right track.

The ASL teachers now refer to me as “The Signing Sub,” and I honestly embrace that nickname wholeheartedly. By finding a niche where I feel confident and valuable, I became more effective at my job and found greater personal fulfillment in the work.

Like my newfound specialty, we all can contribute to the world around us in our own unique way. God has given us each gifts designed for a specific purpose, and no one else can do the things that we are each designed to do. Situations in our life may seem impossible or hopeless at first, but through prayer, trial and error, taking risks, and self-advocacy, we can find creative ways to use our skills. To do this, we must work on fostering and recognizing our talents and abilities, honor their value, and use them for good. Then, by sticking through and learning from the hard times, we can figure out ways to make situations better for ourselves and the people around us.

What we do may be something simple or it may be something big, but it is all meaningful.

In Joy, Monica

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:10